All around them the cheeses were stinking
All around them the cheeses were stinking. On the two shelves at the back of the stall were huge blocks of butter: Brittany butter overflowing its baskets; Normandy butter wrapped in cloth, looking like models of bellies on to which a sculptor had thrown some wet rags; other blocks, already cut into and looking like high rocks full of valleys and crevices. Under the display counter of red marble veined with grey, baskets of eggs shone like white chalk; while on layers of straw in boxes were bondons placed end to end, and gournays arranged like medals, forming darker patches tinted with green. But for the most part the cheeses stood in piles on the table. There, next to the one-pound packs of butter, a gigantic cantal was spread on leaves of white beet, as though split by blows from an axe; then came a golden Cheshire cheese, a gruyère like a wheel fallen from some barbarian chariot, some Dutch cheeses suggesting decapitated heads smeared in dried blood and as hard as skulls—which has earned them the name of ‘death’s heads’. A parmesan added its aromatic tang to the thick, dull smell of the others. Three bries, on round boards, looked like melancholy moons. Two of them, very dry, were at the full; the third, in its second quarter, was melting away in a white cream, which had spread into a pool and flowed over the thin boards that had been put there in an attempt to hold it in check. Some ports-saluts, shaped like ancient discuses, bore the printed names of their makers. A romantour in silver paper suggested a bar of nougat or some sweet cheese which had strayed into this realm of bitter fermentations. The roqueforts, too, under their glass covers, had a princely air, their fat faces veined in blue and like the victims of some shameful disease common to rich people who have eaten too many truffles; while on a dish next to them stood the fromages de chèvre, about the size of a child’s fist, hard and grey like the pebbles which the rams send rolling down stony paths as they lead their flock. Then came the strong-smelling cheeses: the mont-d’ors, pale yellow, with a mild sugary smell; the troyes, very thick and bruised at the edges, much stronger, smelling like a damp cellar; the camemberts, suggesting high game; the neufchâtels, the limbourgs, the marolles, the pont-l’évèques, each adding its own shrill note in a phrase that was harsh to the point of nausea; the livarots, tinted red, as irritating to the throat as sulphur fumes; and finally, stronger than all the others, the olivets, wrapped in walnut leaves, like the carcasses of animals which peasants cover with branches as they lie rotting in the hedgerow under the blazing sun. The warm afternoon had softened the cheeses; the mould on the rinds was melting and glazing over with the rich colours of red copper verdigris, like wounds that have badly healed; under the oak leaves, a breeze lifted the skin of the olivets, which seemed to move up and down with the slow breathing of a man asleep. A livarot was swarming with life; and behind the scales a géromé flavoured with aniseed gave off such a pestilential smell that all around it flies had dropped dead on the marble slab.
[Zola, The Belly of Paris (trans. Brian Nelson)]